Reflections on EMDR

IMG_1649As I finish the last requirements of my Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) training, I feel more compelled than ever share the gift of this therapy with the world. Having sat on both sides of the room, experiencing EMDR as both a therapist and as a client, I continue to be amazed at the changes I see, both in myself and in those I work with.

I notice myself making new connections about my habitual patterns. The roots of everyday suffering have become cleaner and clearer; I find myself more honest with them. I am more honest and less resistant, more flexible and less stressed, more curious and less avoidant. Most of all, I am finding myself more resilient than ever before. This was highly apparent to me during the chaos of the recent 100-year flood, an event that had a great impact on my life. What could have easily been psychologically traumatic was instead within my realm of tolerance. Beyond that, I was able to make meaning of my experiences and grow, even while the waters were at their height.

I am not a new person; I am simply more intimately in contact with my core self—in contact with my strength and power and flexibility and wisdom. I can weather the storm, more grounded than ever before.

I went into my EMDR training very skeptical. On the outside, the therapy appeared to be too rigid and formulaic for my style. Because of its predictable structure, I assumed that it lacked room for spontaneity and creativity. I thought because of this structure, my clients would feel as though therapy was being “done to them” and they would not have freedom to explore their own therapeutic processes in ways that were most helpful and resonating to them as individuals. Truth be told, EMDR is structured. There is a very clear formula and protocol. But what I didn’t realize before beginning my training was that this structure was the skeletal frame that could support a very creative, investigative, and nondirective process. My experience of EMDR has been a polar opposite of my past stigmas.

So what is EMDR, how does it work, and what is it like?

EMDR is a type of therapy that can be extremely helpful for both traumatic and difficult life experiences. Unpleasant symptoms that cause distress occur when such experiences are stored in the brain in an unprocessed way.  In other words, they get “stuck.” EMDR helps to unstick and process these experiences, reintegrating them in the brain so that they are no longer disturbing.

In EMDR, we use bilateral stimulation with eye movements, tactile sensations, or audio sensations while remembering a memory or symptom. This allows for processing and integrating of stored and/or unconscious material, thereby decreasing unpleasant symptoms. Though we are not sure quite how EMDR works, it has been shown by research to be a highly effective method of therapy. One theory is that by using bilateral stimulation, we create a state in the brain similar to REM sleep, which allows for our system to process material that is otherwise stuck.

During an EMDR session, a person experiences a combination of images, thoughts, somatic sensations, and emotions as though they were on a train, watching them go by out the window. It feels a little different for everyone, and part of the process is learning to trust that your experience is unfolding as it needs to (with guidance, of course!).

One thing I really love about EMDR is that it creates safety in a way that makes processing difficult experiences manageable. It gives clients control over how deeply they want to go into painful experiences, and highlights the importance of self-care and trusting one’s own limits. In this way, it promotes self-compassion and self-awareness. It’s empowering. It puts us in intimate contact with all parts of ourselves, from our shiniest defenses to our shadowed wisdom.

*Interested and want to know more? I am happy to do free in-person or phone consultations if you are considering EMDR with me. I am also happy to help connect you to other resources as well! Contact me here.*

[Sources: EMDR International Association: EMDRIA.org. , Maiberger Institute: maibergerinstitute.com].

Artist Trading Cards in Therapy

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Artist trading cards, or ATCs, are small, baseball card-sized works of art. They can be made from collage, paint, drawings, words, and can even include other material such as wire, fabric, glitter, feathers, etc. Traditionally, artist trading cards are just that: a card meant to be given away—sent out into the universe to find someone whom will benefit. They are unique, meaningful, and are small enough to carry in one’s wallet.

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Creating artist trading cards is an art therapy project I love to bring in to my work with clients. Here are some of the therapeutic outcomes of these gems:

1. Simplicity.

There is only so much one can fit onto a teeny tiny card. When we are overwhelmed by a feeling or an experience, it can be helpful to contain it to a manageable size (in this case, literally). When we only have a small card to work with, we are also forced to let go of the peripheral mental chatter and bring the essence of our feeling into focus.

For example, when I am triggered into remembering a shameful experience, it is easy to lose myself in a thunderstorm of thoughts, worries, or mental battles to escape what I am feeling. But what does this shame look like? What color would it be? What texture? If it could only say one sentence, what would it say? Allowing it to express itself on a small card helps us to process it, and it also helps us to contain it.

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2. An object in transition.

Creating something that fits into a wallet can be really helpful in that it can come with us everywhere. Perhaps we want to cultivate self-love or connect with our sense of empowerment. Having a physical object that represents these things can be a powerful thing to have in your pocket. Artist trading cards and other small art therapy projects are a great way to help cultivate positive emotional experiences because you can bring them with you; they jump out at you and serve as a reminder when you need them. Once you no longer need them, you can send them back into the universe to find someone who does.

3. Letting go.

Several years ago, when I was working in an orphanage in Kathmandu, Nepal, my mother (who is a talented photographer and lover of the arts) came to visit. She had the idea to photograph the children we were working with for a project. She brought their pictures to the high school in her town, and after collaborating with the art teacher, the art students were each given a photograph from which they would paint a portrait. Once they were finished, the portraits were brought back to Kathmandu and given to the children there.

The reactions of the orphaned children after this exchange were profound; for many of them, it was the first time someone had paid attention to the details of their face or had labored over a gift for them. Many of them reported feeling understood and seen by the artists whom they had never met. My mother reported a profound experience by the artists as well; many had a difficult time letting gatc4o of the projects they had worked so hard on. Feeling connected to and changed by a project and then giving it away to another person taught about community, connection with others, impermanence, and letting go.

Artist trading cards were developed in the same spirit. Creating art is immensely healing, as it helps us connect with unspoken parts of ourselves. Sharing that art can also be profound, in that it helps show us how we are not isolated in difficult experiences, but rather connected. Sometimes art can serve as a form of communication for emotions that we are unable to express with common language; it shows us that others feel the same way and it gives others the chance to grow from our work. It also helps us practice letting go of something we are attached to, an act that can ultimately help us to feel more peaceful with the ever-changing nature life.

If you come by my office, please feel free to take or trade a card with me!

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Rachael Uris, MA, LPC is the owner of Atacama Counseling, LLC, offering sex therapy as well as individual and couple's counseling for issues surrounding sexuality, love, and pregnancy. All services are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and are provided in English and Spanish.
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